Negotiating with Hamas: Will 50 Billion Dollars Sweeten the Deal

In Israeli political circles the scheme to demilitarize Gaza, proposed in mid July, is gaining traction. Shaoul Mofaz, Kadima leader and Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff, believes it is the only long-term solution to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. “We must end this attrition war against the State of Israel and the best way is demilitarization, for the rehabilitation for the people in Gaza.” The question is, will Hamas accept this suggestion, and what incentive will tempt the people of Palestine to assume this gargantuan risk. The incentive may be proposed in the shape of 50 billion dollars offered by Israel in economic aid aimed at improving infrastructure, health, education, and job creation. The aid is desperately needed. The situation in Gaza is bleak to say the least. The death of three Israeli teenagers has brought the wrath of Israel’s terror on 1.8 million Palestinians. One fourth of the population of Gaza has been displaced. Over 1800 lives have been lost, of which 85 percent are civilians. “Palestinian officials estimate that airstrikes and shelling have wrecked at least 10,000 houses and seriously damaged 30,000 more. As many as 80 mosques have been damaged or destroyed. Many farming areas and industrial zones, filled with the small manufacturing plants and factories that anchored Gaza’s economy, are now wastelands.” Needless to say there are countless news articles presenting war scores. It would not be a far stretch to say the Palestinians have no faith in any deal or aid extended by an enemy focused on destroying it. They have also not forgotten that Israel broke the Egypt brokered cease-fire deal in 2008. Just as Israel believes there are no guarantees with Hamas. There are no guarantees that Israel will keep its promises. Palestinians have lived through many changing political landscapes to recognize that any small incident can fire up new reasons for conflict, bringing with it a new set of conditions. There is also the pressing question of geographical belligerence and disproportionate force. Israel maintains its people are under attack and it must neutralize the terrorist arsenal destroying civilian life. Earlier last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry also supported Israel’s right to defend itself. The US has continued to supply Israel with weapons during the conflict. Now let’s look at this barbaric terrorist assault and take count of casualties; Operation Cast lead: over 1100 Palestinians, 13 Israelis; Operation Pillar of Defense: over 150 Palestinians, 4 Israelis; Operation Protective Edge: over 1800 Palestinians, 160 Israelis. It’s an asymmetrical war. This clearly begs the question, Which side is actually using brute force? How does it make sense to strip the Palestinians; who already have weak defenses and no effective ammunition; under occupation by a force with the best-known missile defense system and a very serious army. The long-term consequences seem near transparent. 494706-73f298c2-0ef4-11e4-b835-19c5916f0215 As senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti points out, “I would like to see Palestine and Israel completely demilitarized. But you can’t say, you should demilitarize Palestinians who are under occupation and oppression and a system of apartheid, while Israel can keep its nuclear force and [its] huge military arsenal, and the fourth largest army in the world.” Negotiations on a cease-fire deal are underway in Cairo, but so far there is no response on the Palestinian demand to remove the blockade. Many would argue that the blockade began as an effort to contain Hamas offensives. This is an easy way for Israel to wash its hands of all fault and blame and continue violations of international humanitarian law with a clean conscience. Palestinians have brought this on themselves. Isn’t the war and all related atrocity really the fault of the Palestinians, they elected Hamas into power in 2006. It is pertinent to remember that restrictions on Palestinians started as early as 1989, with the issuance of limited magnetic cards, and personal exit permits. This limiting measure later progressed into a restrictive buffer zone with grave economic consequences for the Palestinians. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD in January 2003, US $2.4 billion in losses had pushed the Palestinian economy into a stage of de-development. In 2011 a UNHCR fact-finding mission concluded that the 2007 blockade constituted collective punishment of the people of Gaza and was therefore unlawful. In July this year Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights and head of the Council accused Israel of committing war crimes. But Israel maintains a victim rhetoric “There can be no moral symmetry between a terrorist aggressor and a democracy defending itself,” responded Eviatar Manor, Israel’s envoy to the UNHCR. navi_pillay.jpg_1718483346 For the people in the Gaza strip today the current war strengthens the case for Hamas as the defender of its people. Mofez insists that the Palestinian Authority is the formal representative of the Palestinians. But for a people broken by a serious seven-year blockade by Israel, preventing fee movement, unable to access goods and adequate medical supplies, stripped of sufficient humanitarian relief, Hamas is the champion. Ironically Hamas is the product of Israel’s bid to quell resistance in the region. During the Second Intifada Israel’s policy of assassinations, damaging institutions of the Palestinian Authority and terrifying Fatah gave political space to Hamas and other groups.   Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal attends a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza City Unfortunately Hamas’ very existence is tied to its identity as an Islamic Resistance movement. According to its charter formalized in 1988 “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.” For Hamas all manner of international deal-making is suspect, serving greater political game-playing for powerful stakeholders. In such an environment of suspicion, extreme negotiations for demilitarization can only have intent to lower Hamas’ expectations for removal of the blockade. This is not good news for the management of conflict. But as various commentators point out, though Hamas may be isolated in terms of allies it is still representative of the Palestinian people. Israel has hinted that if an agreement is not reached, other alternatives are another round of fighting or an extreme operation to conquer the Gaza strip.   ***